Did you know that fhe first mobile discotheques are Belgian?
Feel free to add to the classic list of Belgian showpieces, such as beer, chocolate, waffles and French fries, the unique mobile dance halls of the Kempen family Klessens. The latest generation has since conquered the world with its nostalgic mirror tents.
The very first mobile dance salons in Belgium date from around 1900. The buildings with an interior of traditional wood carving in oak or mahogany, sometimes in Art Nouveau style, abundant crystal, stained glass, romantic and cosy red velvet seating corners with gold stitching around a round dance floor, an antique bar and the sparkle of sometimes as many as hundreds of faceted mirrors appeared at just about every fair. Night owls, party-goers and heartbreakers were part of the furniture after the turn of the century. Thanks to those mirrors, they could easily make eye contact with like-minded souls. The treasure chambers of desire were a symbol of the wild nightlife of the time.
The ancestor of the family business, which is still active today, was the Dutchman Willem Klessens. He crossed the border in 1912 and earned his living as a wainwright and joiner in Lommel. But his true passion lay elsewhere. After his marriage to Amelia Kaers, he opened a cafe-dance hall. In his own words, his business lacked charisma and he wanted to compensate for this with the purchase of a dance organ from Antwerp. To his surprise, there was also a real matching dance tent in the package. The organ was placed in the dance hall, but because he did not know what to do with the tent for the time being, he placed it in a shed at the back of the garden. In the next edition of the Lommel fair, he decided to take the tent out of the shed. A resounding success and the early beginnings of the Klessens mirror tent company.
That very first tent was restored in 1920 and christened Het Kempisch Danspaleis. In 1930, the second generation of Klessens joined Nova Danssalon. Later, a large Decap dance organ was even installed. After the Second World War, with the rise of live music, the demand for mirror tents grew explosively, with roaring names such as De Lust, Bon Vivant, Cristal Palace, Majestic, Teatro Colombino, Carrousel, The Carrousel, Magic Cristal, Victoria, Pigalle and Queen of Flanders. Each with their own character, charm and atmosphere. The best orchestras from home and abroad wanted to perform their music in tents. They were like living jukeboxes.
The third and fourth generations of Klessens no longer travel from fair to fair alone, but sought new horizons, even in far-flung countries. The popular entertainment of yesteryear is now also enjoyed by organisers of a wide variety of events: festivals, concerts, swinging corporate and private parties, anniversaries, fairs, circuses and even theatres for a stylish dinner show.
One hundred years after their creation, mirror tents clearly still have the wind in their sails.